Indo-Caribbean Hindus at World Hindu Conference 2023 Thailand
I read of the passing of legendary Indian spinner Bishen Singh Bedi at age 77. He died last Monday after a period of ailment. Memories return of his ball spinning skills when he bowled against West Indies in the region and in India (1966, 1974-75 series). That name is very popular among cricket enthusiasts during the 1960s and 1970s. There was grace in his bowling, luring batters to make mistakes and give up their wicket. He could not be easily dispatched to the boundary (Clive Lloyd and others know that too well). He befuddled batsmen. His bowling numbers tell the story of his prowess, staggering indeed — 266 Test wickets and 1560 First Class scalps. He represented Punjab, Delhi, India and also played county cricket (for Northamptonshire) in England leading it to the championship. He made his test debut in Kolkota taking the prized wickets of Guyanese Basil Butcher, Clive Lloyd, among other great batsmen.
Many remember Bedi since 1971 on a tour to the West Indies; Sunil Gavaskar made his debut that year at age 21 and would become one of the greatest opening batsman in the history of the game. Many families named their son, including my younger brother, after Gavaskar’s first name. I had just turned into my teens in 1971 when Bedi first played in Georgetown with a scheduled follow up visit in 1976; I don’t remember if the four day game was washed out. But the Bourda test match was shifted to Trinidad because of heavy rains. India won the test in an exhilarating performance chasing over 400 runs with centuries by Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath and with solid performances from Surendra Amarnath, Mohinder Amarnath (who played an anchor innings, among others, as Sunil went after the ball scoring quickly. Bedi took 18 wickets in that four test series. Gavaskar scored the most runs for India. Holding took the most wickets for WI and Vivian Richards scored the most runs including three centuries in the first three tests. WI won the series 2-1. The Indians suffered terrible injuries during the 4th test in Sabina Park from hostile fast bowling that targeted the batsmen with bouncers. For Indian batsmen were injured.
Bedi was a hero to almost every rural raised Indian youngster in Guyana and Trinidad. Anyone who was into slow bowling (spin) wanted to bowl like Bedi or Lance Gibbs with deadly accuracy. (I was a medium pacer occasionally using off breaks). Their flight and guile tricked batsmen. Bedi was among the best in his time (test cricket 1966 to 1979) as a spinner. Other great spinners were his partners Erapalli Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan, a spin quartet that troubled batsmen everywhere particularly at Queens Park Oval.
Growing up in Port Mourant, far away from Bourda, a trip few rural folks could afford, I never saw Bedi played cricket, but our ears were wired to the radio whenever he played in the Caribbean. One needed actually see the bowler in action. The commentaries made one feel that he or she was actually watching the bowler in motion and the batsman in action. One could feel that one was in the stand watching the game live. The commentators’ description of Bedi’s action in delivering the ball, its spin and deviation or movement, the difficulty of batsmen (including the great Rohan Rohan Kanhai, Gary Sobers, Alvin Kalicharran, Lawrence Rowe, among others) to kill the spin, revealed the greatness of this bowler.
Besides being a cricketer, Bedi was also a coach of BCCI and an administrator. Be he was more interested in playing cricket, not in its administration. He didn’t care much for administrators preferring to focus on techniques of the game and in getting India to win rather than to score points of what was a better bowling or batting strategy.
Bedi, according to media reports, was gentleman in every aspect of the game and in his personality off the field. He was never abusive even when decisions went against him; and there were several in the Caribbean and Australia. As tributes noted, he personified integrity and honesty. He was a patriot, a nationalist. He cared for Indian cricket and of the players he coached, and he was not always in agreement with administrators of the game in India. He called a spade a spade. Everyone who played during his time and even those whose cricketing career he touched, paid glowing tributes on his passing.
Well known Indian cricket broadcaster Harsha Bhogle penned, “even if you didn’t agree with him, you knew his ideas came from a place of purity and concern. He left an indelible mark on the game with his artistry as a spin bowler and his impeccable character. Detailing personal interactions with Bedi, Sachin Tendulkar said Bedi helped him to score his hundred in New Zealand. “He would say things with warmth that only he possessed”, penned Sachin.
Bedi's teammate Sunil Gavaskar said described Bedi as the finest left hand bowler that I saw."
Michael Holding said Bedi was a magician with the ball.
According to cricket commentator Suresh Menon, writing in The Hindu, the great Aussie Don Bradman described Bedi as follows: “I am ever ready to appreciate skill in a cricketer, particularly as in Bedi’s case, it is associated with sportsmanship of high calibre … I do not hesitate to rank Bedi amongst the finest bowlers of his type that we have seen.”
Chandrasekhar, Venkatraghavan, Prasanna, Kapil Dev all said they gained immense stature playing alongside Bedi. Pakistan’s former captain Intikhab Alam said Bedi was a dear friend and that they spoke regularly about the game and his health. “Bedi remained a man of the world and knowledge had to be shared, be it with Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, Monty Panesar or Sunil Joshi, all great spinners”.
Former West Indies pacer and now commentators Ian Bishop wrote, “Saddened to hear of the passing of the legendary Bishan Singh Bedi. Many of my predecessors in the Caribbean spoke of his guile and skill as a bowler and competitor in reverential tones”.
Bishan Singh Bedi was a key figure in Indian cricket's spin bowling revolution that has been replaced by speed bowling but his contribution to the game will not be forgotten.